We were invited to lunch yesterday with the missionary patriarch of Shangalala. Present were our family, the Lutheran bishop of Angola (who is becoming a dear friend), a visiting missionary couple who lived and served here for 25 years until 2007 and our hosts, Noah, his wife and his sister. 90 year old Noah and his wife are Africans from Namibia who came to Shangalala as missionaries in the 1960s. There was nothing here when they arrived in this very remote location, and they began sharing Jesus’ love with the surrounding people. They lived and worked through several wars and many hardships. They simply reek of humility, gentleness and honor. As we sat in a small circle outside his home under a tree, Noah stood and said that he wanted to share his story with us, as well as the history of Shangalala. He shared in Oshikwanyama and the bishop translated to Portuguese for us. What a remarkable life story spoken quietly and confidently by a man whose life is marked by such obvious courage and humility, a beautiful combination of qualities in a man of God.
When he finished, he asked if we had any questions and I asked him what advice he would give to those of us working here presently. He smiled and said he greatly appreciated such a question and he spoke at some length about what a joy it has been to have us working and living here (he didn’t answer the question!). He spoke of the time that he came in to see me at the hospital (I didn’t know who he was) and was quite honored and encouraged that I listened so well to him and then prayed for him. He said he loves to see especially a doctor recognize who is the Healer and the Giver of life, and one who so obviously works in surrender to a power greater than himself.
Noah said that he has heard so much positive feedback about our presence here and shared that, to him, evangelism is pointing people to Jesus and that the humble and loving way that I serve, combined with asking God to touch/help/heal/encourage each person, is very effective evangelism. One of the women serving the lunch shared that there is a rumor about the region that the doctor at Shangalala has special medicine and that, in contrast to other medicines, his medicine works. Hopefully, with time, more people will connect any health success they experience with the only Healer and not the instruments that He chooses to use. It is such a blessing to be for these beautiful people an instrument of service and to have tools (medications) with which to help them.
Through your faithful contributions to our work, so many of you have purchased the medications that we use to help those ill and hurting (for example, we have several babies currently in our simple hospital recovering well from severe pneumonia and malaria). This rumor is about me, but also about you and the One that calls and motivates both of us to serve these people and, in doing so, serve the One we especially love.
Ben and I began our daily lessons in Oshikwanyama. What a mountain we face! This rural, desert tribal language is no less complex than english or portuguese and very, very different. We have a patient, incredibly intelligent instructor in Miguel, who knows many languages fluently and is a school teacher, so instructs quite well and patiently for the hour that he is with us each day. He doesn’t want paid (we’ll remedy that somehow) as money just means so little to these rural folks. An example of a sentence is, “Ami ondahála okupópia mongulah.” “I would like to speak with you tomorrow.” Instead of a word for “ice” they say “water rocks” as the only form of ice they know is made in blocks or ice trays. “Good morning” is “Walelepoh” and “Have a good night” is “Tunangálepoh”. The word for God is, “Kalunga” and “Praise God” is “Kalunga na pandulwe”. Now you can confuse someone!
In this extremely rural environment, it is amazing how few traumatic injuries we see. Our love of speed in the west kills and maims millions. Not only do we pay a dear price for all of our modern rushing to experience more, it also leaves many of us unable to experience deeply. Likely few things separate this culture from the west more than the pace of life. NOTHING happens fast here. It seems nothing is urgent or would cause a person to even walk quickly. No one wears a watch, and when speaking of time, they point to the sky and say, for example, we’ll meet when the sun is about there. Everyone walks, a lot, so there is much time between their one or two “events” in a day. Long periods of silence in conversation are comfortable because there is plenty of time and no rush to be somewhere. To wait is normal and people are very comfortable with waiting for long periods. There are no appointments and people come to the clinic at sunup and are served in the order of arrival, many waiting until afternoon and exhibiting no frustration or anger (!). One woman patiently waited today (fasting) until after 2:00p to have her tooth pulled.
The beauty of what I’m describing challenges me greatly, as the hurry that is characteristic of so many of our lives (mine) reveals such a poverty of faith. We say that God is sovereign and in control, yet our anxious pace validates that we really believe that everything is up to us. We say that we will live forever in heaven, but we anxiously live daily as though there is nothing after this, our one and only shot at life. Our fear of loss reveals our clinging grip on this life. When we do trust, we find our white-knuckled grip on our relationships and events is loosened, and our anxiety dissipates. Then we restore our grip and scheme to hold tightly to what is pleasurable and good, unable to truly trust God’s care for us. It’s one thing to trust that God is good and loving. It’s quite another (and life-transforming) to believe that He is good to me, that He loves me!
As we gain trust in our Father’s Kingdom (it is a process, requiring much time and practice), we lose the fear of losing or missing something good in this life, because we know we have all of eternity to experience the fullness of joy and all things good.
We had a very dangerous, very beautiful Spitting Zebra Cobra in our front yard, under our car, yesterday. It had a bad day! It ended up with quite a beating with a stick and tossed in the fire. Ben has seen others while faithfully working on his garden, a challenging endeavor battling so many hungry insects.
At precisely 6:00p every night, as the sun beautifully sets over the Cunene River valley over the cliffs on which our adobe house sits, a shrill whine begins and can be heard over the whole valley. It is a thick, descending (or ascending) cloud of very small anopheles mosquitoes, many harboring the malaria parasite within. The whine is loud and within minutes, the mosquitoes are so thick that one must cover his/her nose to breath. We nightly finish our language lesson at that time and head into our house, where only a few of these insects find their way in. We all sleep peacefully under nets. The temperatures at night are on their way down, usually a pleasant 60-65 degrees at night, while still 85-90 during the day. We have no power at night so the cool temperatures help us rest. It’s nice to no longer sweat through the night.
Our humidity yesterday was 12% and is usually around 15-25% during the day and 20-30% during the night. I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced such.
Our passports are “lost” in Luanda, and have been for 10 weeks, after we sent them in for a mandatory, yearly, visa renewal. This is so common and so typical in the very inefficient, developing countries. We contacted our Embassy and they said they have so many US passports lost in Luanda that they feel helpless to intervene.
This morning as I walked along the river and cliffs below our house, hundreds of small dragon flies flitted and danced around me for the whole hour. They seemed to exhibit such joy in escorting me among the ancient baobab trees and rocks. Their apparent joy and passionate energy challenged me to choose joy today and to pour myself more joyfully into serving my King and those He loves.
I so often feel inadequate to be in this place of intense privilege, living where I am and doing what I’m doing. Peter essentially told the lame man in Acts 3, “There is much that I don’t have and much that I cannot do, but what I do have, I freely give you.” I want this to be my anthem. We can each say the same so many times each day as our Father directs us to encounters with various people. Are we focused on what we can’t do and on what we don’t have, or rather on what we can do and what we do have to give? EVERY benign interaction is an opportunity to love with Jesus’ love, to encourage, to share what His Spirit puts in our hearts to share… “What I have, I give you”…
When confronted with a need or opportunity to love or to serve, if we find ourselves thinking that we can’t help because of our inadequacy, or that someone else could help better, we dishonor the One who has made us, who has directed our journey and who has led us to that very encounter. We must trust that HE has prepared us for each interaction so that we can give “what we have” to give. Like Peter, we can give what we have been given, to bless, to build up, to encourage, or to serve another. We must remember that our Father loves using screwed up, incomplete people to serve, love and bless other screwed up, flawed people.
Often, when I’m tired or not feeling motivated to serve, I am reminded that I can either focus on how blessed I am or am not (me, me, me)… or I can be a blessing with what I have, and let Jesus multiply my measly loaves and fishes.
Last week in Cavango (5-8hr from hospital/doctor), the day before I was scheduled to arrive, more than 50 people arrived and slept on the ground, under the trees, around small fires, outside the clinic. They entered the small clinic building @ 7:30a for worship and a word from the visiting doctor (me), who spoke on how Enoch walked with God (Gen 5) and how this is God’s heart for us today (Heb 11: 5-6), and that He is most pleased by our trust and our seeking relationship with Him. Those ill were then seen in consultation, embraced, provided tools to help their pain or illness, and brought to our Father as I put my arm around them and asked Him to touch them, encourage them, and reveal Himself to them.
Our first patient of the day was a young woman in a coma, carried for hours by her loved ones to arrive at the clinic the night before and join the many sleeping outside waiting for the doctor to arrive the following day. I cannot imagine having a loved one in a coma and having virtually nowhere close by to go for help. We just “happened” to be there for clinic the day after she goes into a coma. How He loves! Who can know the Wind of God? If only we would believe that our every interaction can be His holy breeze, using His beloved child to touch, to embrace and to draw someone to Himself.
I’m reminded this morning that, like the apostles, we are witnesses that Jesus is alive today. We must remember that we are primarily witnesses, not teachers. The words of a witness are only as good as his character and life’s behavior. It is our lives and our love that validate our message, and that there is no Kingdom message apart from a Kingdom life. The Kingdom isn’t spoken or taught as much as it is lived, and it is only in the context of a life of love and grace, that teaching bears any eternal fruit. The church wonders why so many people don’t believe its true kingdom message but I don’t listen to people who I don’t think care for me and either do you. We also dismiss people whose lives are not consistent with their message. Though teaching is important, it must always be secondary to care and real concern for those with whom we speak. So much harm has been done in Jesus‘ name and to those He loves through the speaking of truth in the absence of love and care.
We place so much emphasis in our churches on learning kingdom truth and telling others about this truth, yet all kingdom truth spoken without love is worthless (1Cor 13). Jesus said that loving our neighbor must be our primary life’s emphasis (“I give you a new commandment”), and no preaching is valid in it’s absence. Where is the emphasis in our churches on abandoning our lives, selling all we have, leaving our comforts, and hating our own lives for the sake of another (none of which need instruction or words)?
Sacrificial love, losing our lives and pleasure for another, seeking another’s blessing, humbling ourselves so another can be exalted, living in poverty so that others might be rich, and relating to others with gentleness, kindness and sensitivity are prerequisites in the Kingdom of God for speaking His truth. There really is a cart and horse in the Kingdom and we wonder why we appear foolish as we try to pull a horse with a cart! Yes, we christians are sometimes persecuted for our faith, but many times we deserve to be mocked and ridiculed for our cold, arrogant, self-serving, and self-righteous preaching in the absence of gentle, sensitive love and concern.
Our lives and nonverbal behavior “witness” that Jesus is indeed alive far more than our words. In the same way, our Father communicates His presence with us far more nonverbally than He does verbally and we must appreciate this Kingdom reality and apply it to our lives. He communicates His love, His power and His joy in us constantly, in SO many ways, apart from words. Like our Father, what we communicate with our lives, behavior, tone of voice, etc, apart from our words, has far more impact for the Kingdom than our words will ever have. For example, one angry or insensitive interchange from us can ruin a year’s worth of teaching and speaking truth…
When we leave Shangalala, no one will remember any of our spoken words. But they will remember our hearts, our attitudes, and whether or not we loved, enjoyed and valued them. If their memory is that we cared for them, their memories of our allegiance to Jesus will continue to bear longterm fruit. If they did not see love and the fruit of God’s spirit in our behavior (Gal 5:22), any seeds we tried to plant with words won’t even germinate, and our work will have no lasting value. Let us love, honor, embrace, and only in this context speak about Jesus and His kingdom. If we cannot sensitively and consistently love, let’s be quiet about Jesus.
Let’s pour our lives into serving and building up others today, giving what we have to give, without hurry, with utter disregard for our own pleasure and care, knowing that we ARE cared for dearly and we have forever to experience anything we miss or lose in our abandonment of this life for our King.